The initial joust by the 3 candidates on Native Affairs last week was a brief introduction and a entree served brilliantly by Mihi and the Native team, but it was TV3’s first ‘The Nation’ debate this morning that really heralded the beginning of the campaign proper. Sean Plunket grilled the 3 candidates mercilessly while later in the day the first debate in Levin occurred where Robertson made up for his earlier lame duck performance by tacking hard to the left.
The Nation was hard going. Grant was asked straight off the bat if he should be held responsible as Deputy for the failure of Shearer, Grant never really recovered from that.
Shane Jones was doing his best blue collar routine, if I was having a game of political bingo drinking shots every time Jones said ‘average kiwi’ – I’d have alcohol poisoning and a damaged liver.
Cunliffe said he would reach across the Caucus and reconnect with the Party adding ‘Free markets don’t always produce the best for working people’.
While Sean was throwing punches – Grant looked like a possum in headlights, Jones looking concerned over hard questions and Cunliffe ended up having to step in and save Jones at one point.
The most telling moment was when Sean asked what NZ Labour Politician would you most want to emulate? Robertson & Jones both replied ‘Norm Kirk’, Cunliffe stole the show by saying ‘Michael Savage’.
Sam Hill summed it up best…
Then it was off to the first debate in Levin to a packed hall of 300. Jones has the blue collar shtick down pat now, his role is to take enough working class votes out of the 40% voting pool to make Grant’s chances of beating Cunliffe more likely so it was all regional development from him and bloke larrikinship.
In terms of Cunliffe, the tweets do the talking…
…what was most fascinating however was Grant Robertson tacking to the left and trying to outflank Cunliffe…
“It’s time to leave behind the dog-eat-dog free-market ideology.”
He said there would be no “neoliberal or third-way” agenda under a government led by him.
He also said he would lead a government that “actually respects democracy”.
“The time for talking about ourselves is over. We have one task – and that is to knock over this out-of-touch, crony-capitalist, rag tag party that is the National Party.”
…Farrar ended up giving it to Robertson (no surprises there, beltway sticks with beltway), but it shows Team Robertson have realized the grassroots are far more left wing than the bureaucratic cautious temperance of Wellington Central and they are quickly adapting. This was a far better performance than his pretty dreadful stunned mullet TV interview earlier in the day.
Interestingly on social media, Robertson has only gone up about 70 likes since merging his Facebook pages where as Cunliffe has gained about 700 likes in the same period of time. It seems it will be up to the Unions to see if they will back a leader with populist appeal or the apparatchik candidate.
What we are seeing is a true post-Clark Labour Party being forged and it’s heart and soul is deeply ensconced to the left. Labour should feel proud that they have such depth of talent to compete at this high level.
The Labour Party will be better for this process.